Many of you know by now that in a previous life, I served as a hospital chaplain at an inner city hospital in Atlanta.
Working in a hospital, I can tell you, puts you through some crazy days. Some days, of course, nothing happens, and the chaplains in the pastoral care office of Emory Hospital Midtown would be talking idly and spinning in our chairs and making up songs about hospital work to the tune of the Banana Boat Song.
“Night shift come and me wan’ go home.”
Then there are the days when you count the codes and you never get to sit down. Those are the days when you feel like the hospital is an organism, and it’s angry.
Doctors and nurses have superstitions about such things: first, never, ever, ever, ever tell someone that you hope they “have a quiet shift.” They will look at you as if you just took away any opportunity they would have to use the bathroom for the next twelve hours, because in their minds, you did. I’m also still somewhat convinced that the moon had something to do with it. Those were the times when we’d have women giving birth in the doorways and we’d all be trying to manage three to four sets of patients and families each. To this day, when I notice that the moon is full, I think of people working the night shift at Emory Midtown and Baystate and hospitals everywhere. Sometimes, I even remember to pray for them.
We each had our records for number of codes in one shift. Typically, you only count a few types of codes: Code Blue, which is a life-threatening situation, or one of the codes related the maternity ward (those are the ones where a baby is being born in the doorway, or in the parking lot, or worse, something far more dire). You also count deaths, where our job was to care for the families.
In each of these situations, save for the successful births, there’s a really good chance that you’re meeting someone for the first time on the worst day of their lives. So those metrics gave us something to measure — a reason we were so tired.
My own record was sixteen codes in eight hours, if I remember right. It was a day shift, and our charge phone just kept ringing. This included a false alarm for a stroke (turns out that sometimes, stroke patients sound like they’re drunk, but sometimes, drunk people sound like they’re having strokes). I also ran up the stairs in the parking deck when a patient had fallen next to two hospital employees. We were all very out of breath before I noticed that they were respiratory techs.
Those are the funnier stories. The rest weren’t funny at all.
That evening, when it was all over, I just wanted to go home. I hopped on my bike, not looking forward to the several miles that I would have to bike home. I glided down Peachtree Street, which is Atlanta’s version of Broadway, downhill on Ponce, another main drag, and then I hopped up onto the Beltline, a multi-use trail. I found myself annoyed at how many people seemed to have decided to take walks with six of their closest friends and walk six across. Just then, something told me to stop. I stopped at a bridge over the street with a gorgeous street view. A kid kicked a soccer ball into me, and rather than getting mad, I chased it down and tossed it back to him. I felt the breeze on my face. Instead of seeing the people in my way, I saw parents and children and friends having fun.
I saw a quote on social media this past week saying “Why do your clothes always get caught on the door handle when you’re in a bad mood? Answer: that’s the Lord grabbing you and telling you to stop being extra.”
That day, I felt like I had spent my time among the dead, but suddenly life was set free as I realized how fortunate I was to be alive.
That day, the Lord grabbed me by the shoulder with a sunset and told me to stop being so extra.
Have you ever had one of those days when you’ve just absolutely been though it?
So in the Gospel lesson, Jesus was having that kind of day, too.
Here in Luke, he’s just finished preaching some of his most famous hits: stuff like the parable of the sower, and the light under a bushel. And I’m no son of God, but I can tell you that preaching takes something out of you. It doesn’t make one “I just worked out” tired, but it does have an “I’ve just given a significant amount of energy to delivering this message and connecting with these people” effect.
When he finishes preaching, or maybe during, Jesus’ mom is on him, wanting to talk to him. Then, he gets into a boat with his disciples and finally falls asleep when they get caught in a thunderstorm. He calms the storm, and they reach the shore, and right then, right when he steps out onto the land, in Geresenes (Gentile country, of all places), there’s a loudly raving naked man in his face. I’m not kidding.
Talk about having a day.
But then, the Son of God had been having a life.
According to Luke, this raving naked man had been seized by a demon, and it’d gotten so bad that they chained him up in the tombs.
Talk about living among the dead.
There’s more that Luke’s original audience would have heard there, too. Geresenes was the site of a massive massacre in the first century. According to Josephus, a Jewish historian of the time, the Roman legions had come in and slaughtered a thousand men, taken their families as slaves, and burned their city. Many of those buried in the tombs would have been those thousand men. (1)
Mind you, this happened after Jesus’ time, but Luke’s original hearers would have remembered that because it was a fresh memory. To them, in the world of this text, this man is not only living among the dead; he’s living among the slaughtered, naked, chained and under guard, tormented by a demon.
This man has been through it.
You know how the story ends. The man is healed, and the other Geresene people find him in his right mind, at Jesus’ feet, with clothes on. And the demon named Legion — the same name as the Roman legion who would slaughter a thousand Geresenes in only a few years — is cast into pigs, who throw themselves into the sea.
This man’s wearing clothes and in his right mind. I mean. Pigs ‘r flyin’.
Now, none of us can be constantly available, constantly on. There are days when we’ve been through it and we don’t have the energy reserves to pay attention or to help everyone who needs it. That’s okay.
But when we do have the energy to help, or to stop and take in a sunset or pay attention, we can start to see the people who once annoyed us as humans. We can start to see the life around us. Even if we feel like we’ve been living among the dead, life can be set free, if we can learn to let the Holy Spirit catch us by the sleeve and call us to pay attention.
But ultimately, it’s not about us. We are the healed who only sometimes get the chance to be healers. Primarily, we’re the ones healed by God. We are the ones who come to Jesus in need. And here, we are accepted and life is set free. Every single Sunday, though we may feel that we are coming from living among the dead, we can we meet God in one another and we meet God in bread and wine and water. We are never turned away. Here, life is set free.
Here, no matter what else we’ve been through, we are found clothed (Ken Pueschel sometimes excepted) and in our right minds, no matter what kind of things we’ve been through the week before. Here, we find peace, and sometimes even a miracle.
Pigs ‘r flyin’.
There’s a lot of stuff to make us feel like we’ve been through it. From the news to the details of our own lives, there are a thousand reasons we’re tired, even if they’re not as easy to count as hospital codes.
Regardless of what it is you went through this week, I hope you find peace at this table today. May you meet Jesus in the people here, in water, in bread, and in wine and in words of hope. If you can learn to see God here, maybe, just maybe, when you’ve been through it, you’ll learn to see God in that, too. Amen.